Spontaneous Eruption

The Montreal Jazz Festival celebrates 30 years of serendipity

By: By Skye Mayring

The Details

Montreal Jazz Festival

This year, the Montreal Jazz Festival takes place from June 30 to July 12. Here, clients will discover a dynamic playground where it is not uncommon to stumble upon acrobats, street performers, parades and other spontaneous eruptions of creativity.

The festival also houses the Montreal Guitar Show, the largest guitar show in Canada. Guitarphiles can test-drive or admire hand-made guitars, many of which are available for purchase, as well as attend workshops and participate in guitar-themed activities.

Notable acts include Jeff Beck, Joe Cocker, Mos Def, Jackson Brown, Kool & the Gang, Tony Bennet, Dave Brubeck, Brian Setzer Orchestra, Melody Gardot and DeVotchka, to name a few of the 150 indoor performers. Outdoor performances — from reggae bands to up-and-coming pop soloists — are all free of charge, and there is no fee to enter the festival grounds.

Stevie Wonder kicks off the 30th anniversary celebration with a free outdoor show on June 30 at 9:30 p.m.

Complete programming for the free outdoor concerts and activities will be announced on June 8. Highlights from the indoor lineup follow.

Jazzing Flamenco, June 30, July 2-6
Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra, June 30
Al di Meola, July 1
Kool & The Gang, July 1
Tony Bennett, July 3
Montreal Guitar Show, July 3-5
Wayne Shorter Quartet, July 3
Dave Brubeck, July 4
Thunderheist, July 4
King Sunny Ade & Femi Kuti & The Positive Force, July 5
Jeff Beck, July 6
The Dears, July 6
Pink Martini, July 7-8
The Bell Orchestre, July 9
Brian Setzer, July 10
Mos Def with Robert Glasper, July 10
Beirut, July 11
DeVotchka, July 11
Jackson Browne, July 11
Battle of the Bands with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and Harry James, July 12



The Hyatt Regency Montreal, the official hotel of the festival, is offering several festival-themed packages. (Let’s just hope that some of the hotel employees don’t decide to go on strike again, like they did last year.)

To celebrate Jeff Beck’s first Montreal performance, the Hyatt Regency Montreal is offering a three-day, two-night package that coordinates with his July 6 concert. For about $450 per person, it includes one floor ticket for the concert, two nights at the hotel, two breakfasts, an official festival T-shirt, a shoulder bag with the festival logo, a photo album and more.

Tony Bennett returns to the Jazz Festival on July 3, and the very centrally located Hyatt is offering fans a three-day, two-night package with accommodations, a ticket and much more for approximately $460 per person.

Pink Martini, the group that combines swing, jazz, multilingual pop and classical music are returning to the festival this year but, this time, they are backed by a 51-piece orchestra. The official festival hotel plans to entice return guests and new fans alike with the Pink Martini and Orchestra package, which includes two nights at the Hyatt Regency Montreal, two breakfasts, two tickets in first-category seats for the Pink Martini and Orchestra concert (subject to availability), two official festival T-shirts, a shoulder bag with the festival logo, a 30th anniversary photo album, a personalized itinerary and a welcome cocktail. The rates begin at about $315, per person, based on double occupancy for a three-day, two-night package. It is available for the July 7 concert.

Along with the Hyatt Regency Montreal, Days Inn Montreal Downtown and Dauphin Montreal Downtown are offering a 30th anniversary package with rates starting at approximately $140 per person for two nights. It includes an official event T-shirt, one shoulder bag with the festival’s logo, a compilation CD, priority access to indoor concert tickets, a 25 percent discount on adult admission to the Musee d’art Contemporain de Montreal, two breakfasts and more.

Days Inn Montreal Downtown
Commission: 10 percent

Dauphin Montreal Downtown
Commission: 10 percent

Hyatt Regency Montreal
Commission: 10 percent


Web Exclusive

Click here to view video footage from the Montreal Jazz Festival

As I wandered from a big band performance to a guitar exhibition, a 30-foot-long crocodile puppet reared its head around the street corner, flanked by a 15-piece New Orleans marching band and fanciful figures trotting around on stilts. This was my first visit to the Montreal Jazz Festival in Montreal, Canada, and I quickly learned that serendipity would be the recurrent theme of this two-week event.

There was also a strong sense of camaraderie and goodwill among festival-goers and the staff, something you would expect to see at a non-profit, carbon-neutral event, offering more than 350 free outdoor concerts. And now, the city of Montreal is philanthropically following suit, investing more than $129 million in a three-year project to construct new performance and exhibition venues, protecting the festival area for future events.

Legends like Leonard Cohen are no strangers to the festival. // © Denis Alix 2008

Legends like Leonard Cohen are no strangers to the festival. // © Denis Alix 2008

On June 30, the first of phase of development — a pedestrian site devoted exclusively to performances of all kinds and the seven-story Maison du Festival de Jazz complex, housing a performance hall, a hall of fame, an exhibition space and a restaurant — will be unveiled and opened to the public.

“I have not heard of other cities that have really dedicated space and the heavy infrastructure needed to hold a festival for many years ahead,” said Andre Ménard, the artistic director and co-founder of the Montreal Jazz Festival. “This is something that we are really taking pride in, and we are anxious to show it off to travelers.”

Aretha Franklin tickets were among the most coveted last year. // © Victor Diaz Lamich 2008

Aretha Franklin tickets were among the most coveted last year. // © Victor Diaz Lamich 2008

Ménard added, “You know, every year, we decorate and bring to life our festival space, but now the city itself is transforming it permanently. The festival has left a mark on Montreal, in a sense.”

The Montreal Jazz Festival draws 2.5 million visitors to downtown Montreal every summer. While some travelers may be intimidated by its grand scope, moving around the festival, in most cases, is surprisingly easy. To get from one indoor concert to another, for example, clients can traverse through an underground walkway to avoid crowds. Car traffic is not a problem either, as the site is strictly pedestrian. All performances take place within a four-block radius and, although French is the most commonly spoken language in the city, most everyone speaks English as well.

“Most American travelers are not aware yet of how big and encompassing the festival can be, and just how much we’ve done to make it family oriented,” said Ménard. “The choice of entertainment for grandfathers to kids is limitless — there’s symphony music to groove music to famous singers. It’s utopian to try to accommodate every taste, but we do that pretty well.”

A special kids’ zone, Parc Musical Rio Tinto Alcan, offers free daytime activities such as face-painting and drumming lessons, to children of all ages. Parents may want to make use of the baby-changing tent, stroller parking, free stroller rentals and various food tents and kiosks nearby.

From July 1-11, at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. daily, the kids’ zone will host the Little School of Jazz for tikes who show interest in music. This group play session, teaches about the history of jazz and how a song becomes jazz in very playful ways.

But it’s the adults who will find seemingly endless entertainment possibilities. When asked which artists would blow people’s mind this year, Ménard replied Pink Martini, Thunderheist, the Jazzing Flamenco dance and music extravaganza, The Belle Orchestre (a side project of Arcade Fire) and a bass player from Toronto, Renaud Garcia-Fons, who will play three different concerts with bands from different nations.

“Also, Jamie Cullum, who is not yet a household name in America, is doing a symphony hall performance. As far as I am concerned, he is one of great pianists, singers and showman of our generation. I saw him at the Monterey Jazz Festival last fall, and the crowd was floored by what he did.”

Ménard and his team are still fine-tuning celebration plans for the 30th anniversary year of the festival, and a full schedule of outdoor events will be announced next month.

“For our closing event, we might actually have a huge Cuba and U.S. show, a niche concert of Cuban and American artists sharing the stage to convey the message that the cultural exchanges have to be intensified between these two countries,” he said. “We have discussed it for some time, even before President Obama made the announcement [that America may loosen its restrictions on travel to Cuba].”

Truly, the biggest challenge for any festival first-timer is mapping out the day based on the schedule of free and ticketed events found in the festival’s official, 180-page program (handed out for free at the festival and at some participating hotels). My advice to clients is to be realistic — to choose only one indoor performance and two or three must-see, outdoor performances per day, allowing time to drift around and take it all in. Besides, some of the most memorable moments at the Montreal Jazz Festival are the most spontaneous ones.